Meet PD3's Cat Botibol: From "tea girl" to owner in little over a decade

Elliott Haworth
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I felt that as a business, we’d got to a point where we weren’t set up to keep innovating. (Source: PD3)

Cat Botibol, owner and creative chief at experiential and content marketing agency PD3, might be a millennial, she tells me. She’s not sure. “Millennial” is a horrid marketing term, we agree.

“I don’t believe in the whole millennial way of grouping people,” Botibol says, questioningly. “To group people through age and generalise their attitudes is dangerous. So what we practice, and what I believe in, is this idea of ‘post-demographic’. That is, looking at people and what they self-identify with: their own mindsets, their attitudes and the way they live their lives, and from a marketing perspective, creating campaigns that target people through that.”

Climb the ladder

We reached our conversation about millennials through discussing Botibol’s takeover of PD3 two and a half years ago. She defies the stereotype that people (millenials) no longer have jobs for life – that we’re all fluid, moving with the ebb and flow of life’s tide.

Starting as a “tea girl” in 2004, she now owns the company, having scaled the meritocratic ladder to the top rung, and climbed over the top.

“I started working at PD3 with literally with no experience in the industry,” she says. “I was the sixth employee and it was just a couple of people in a studio in Shoreditch – which at the time, was... [pause] a scuzz bucket. Big squat parties and the like. I did a fine art degree, and thought: ‘I’m going to be an artist,’ but then I was like ‘I can’t pay my rent.’”

A familiar tale to many young creatives, no doubt. Quickly climbing to creative director, the company went from strength to strength in the experiential and live event market, at the time running sponsorship activation campaigns for O2, among others.

Following the previous owner’s departure to pursue a less corporate life, Botibol purchased the firm, and wasted no time restructuring. “I felt that as a business, we’d got to a point where we weren’t set up to keep innovating. When I took over, mentally I was a bit like ‘ahh!’. It had an amazing legacy of 15 years, and for two thirds of that I’d played a part, but I guess I wanted to approach it with a new vision – it was almost like going backwards to move forwards.

New vision

She stripped the business back to eight people. –“right to the core, pitch-winning team” – and has gone on to critical success in a short time. While still working on experiential marketing, it has moved into content and production, such as the recent campaign with music streaming site Deezer.

“The business is new in all but name – it’s been a rebirth,” says Botibol. “One of the big shifts I’ve made with PD3 is that our ambitions as an agency are not just about making one kind of marketing anymore – it’s not just about experiential. We let the work do the talking. There’s a huge opportunity just to be real and authentic and to stand for something, because so many other parts of life don’t anymore.”

A call to arms

Some of the work I enjoy most from PD3 is in the charity sector, such as the HIV awareness campaign for the Terrence Higgins Trust. Botibol tells me that “doing things, not just saying things” is central to the PD3 attitude, and she issues a call to arms for other marketers:

“More and more, we are people living through screens to mediate our lives – which I am as much as anyone else. On one side it’s great, because I can do everything much quicker, and my life is a bit cheaper, and I have better access to more things. The world is becoming a smaller place. It’s amazing stuff,” she says.

However, Botibol distinguishes between what she calls the “screen self” and “real self” – the projected ideal version of one’s self propogated through social media, and the person one is in reality.

“It’s really important to keep a sight of the real self,” she says. “The idea of a real world experience – human and human together – having an interaction is becoming more powerful, because the fewer of them we have, the more they mean. Brands need to be aware of that the real world experience is becoming more powerful. It relates to ‘post-demography’ – we shouldn’t be feeding the marketing stereotypes, we should be talking to people as the people they really are. Some might find that hard to believe.”

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